ROME—The Swiss Guards, founded in 1506 by Pope Julius II, are responsible for protecting the Pope's physical security. They guard the entrances of Vatican City as well as provide security during religious functions and papal audiences. Legend has it that the bright yellow, red, and blue dress uniform was designed by Michelangelo.

The guards, which number 100, are the only armed corps left in the Vatican after the 1970 reforms by Pope Paul VI. May 6 commemorates the day in 1527 when 147 guards lost their lives in defense of Pope Clement VII during the Sack of Rome.

To enroll in the guards, it is necessary to be a Roman Catholic Swiss male, at least 5 feet 8 inches tall, between ages 18 and 30, and to have performed military service in Switzerland. The guards live in barracks located inside the Vatican. In traditional uniform they carry seven-foot pikes, but they also have firearms and during papal audiences they carry tear gas.

The lowest rank, called alabardiere (pike carrier), earns about $700 per month. The term of duty is two years, which can be renewed.

— Berenice Cocciolillo